Development of a Thangka Artist – Donna Granata interviews Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo for Focus on the Masters

What a team Donna Granata has gathered at Focus on the Masters!

Such meticulous attention to quality on every level. And what a joy to speak with Donna about my work and life. I’ve long been a supporter of FOTM but now, having gone through the documentation process myself, my support and admiration have increased exponentially.


It was a magical evening. The room was filled to capacity — and filled with love. Held by all that love, I wasn’t even nervous as Donna and I began our conversation!



Top-notch sound engineering, lighting, and cinematography. It’s a TV-interview setup with four cameras — one on Donna, one on me, one on the stage with both of us and the artwork… I’m not really sure where the fourth camera pointed!



There was also a slide show on the big screen, showing images to support our conversation. These images were culled from the hundreds (thousands?) that are now in FOTM’s archive.

It was hard to edit and we had to leave out several stories that would have been fun to tell. But who can recount all the pivotal moments of their life in one hour? We stuck to what was most relevant to the art and of most interest to the audience. Whole decades and countries (sorry, Italy) didn’t make the cut!


My mom is an artist, who sculpted me into existence (pictured below sculpting a bust of mother and child while pregnant with me)…


I grew up in a mixed-religion family, exposed to various world views from a young age and resonating with Eastern spirituality from the moment I met it.


Grateful to have inherited an abiding joy that, though sometimes hidden, always returns.


People appreciated my sharing about my struggle with compulsive hair pulling, skin picking, and nail biting. Everyone has something!

And I’ve seen how the meticulous perfectionism inherent in mine (misdirected though it may be) is the same energy that makes it possible for me to wrap horsehair and stitch silk. This seems to have touched many people deeply and inspired conversations around dinner tables after the interview.


Of course, there was lots of talk of India — my apprenticeship, meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the everyday experience of living there.




Briefly traveling through history and touching on examples of silk thangkas in Tibet and at the Norton Simon Museum, we reached my nearer past and present — with its exhibitions, Stitching Buddhas teaching program, and Threads of Awakening Weekly Wake-Ups.

Slide100 Slide103 Slide105

Linda Carson and Michael Rohde generously sponsored my documentation.

And Paula Spellman hosted a celebratory AfterGLOW, with yummy India food.


Thank you to everyone who helped, supported, and attended the Spotlight interview!

The short video below gives you a feel for the work of Focus on the Masters. I’m so grateful to be part of the Focus family, touched by the work they do to recognize artists and bring their gifts to a broader community.


I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to share the video of my own FOTM Spotlight interview with you. Give at Indiegogo to help us get there!


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Archival quality: Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is being documented by Focus on the Masters

Focus on the Masters (FOTM) is a nonprofit art archive and education program that documents, preserves, and presents the works and lives of contemporary artists in southern California.

Founded in 1994 by Donna Granata, FOTM is the only biographical resource of its kind in the country. Its archive includes oral histories, videotaped interviews, photographic portraits and examples of artists’ work. I’m extremely honored to have been selected for inclusion.


Going through images, stories, and themes of my life and artistic development is a deep and emotional process. Somewhat ironically, it brings up all kinds of old doubts and feelings of inadequacy even while buoying one’s spirit with its honor.

The old “imposter syndrome” rears its head (Did they really mean to choose ME? They must have made a mistake!).

And how we approach anything is how we approach everything (I seemed to start out organized and in control then, before I knew it, I was drowning in a sea of images, overwhelmed and second-guessing each choice).



But mostly, I’m really grateful for having so much experience watching my mind. I can let the waves crash through and know that the ocean is doing just fine.

Donna is a great support. She clearly LOVES what she does, bringing artists’ stories to life and preserving them for appreciation and understanding in generations to come. Her endless curiosity and love, not only for the process but for each artist, is a gift!




The culmination of the month-long documentation process is a videotaped interview with founder Donna Granata in front of a live studio audience. I’d love for you to be in that audience on March 28, 2015! I hope to share some of my love of life and beauty with you that night…

(And I hope to be able to edit and share the video with more of you in months to come. I’ll need your support for that. Stay tuned for a crowdfunding campaign soon!)


The interview went great! You can now support our campaign to raise funds for editing the video.

Click below for more information

And as a special bonus, Himalaya restaurant in Ventura is offering to donate a portion of its income from supporters of the ARTS to Focus on the Masters on March 31 and throughout the month of April. Just print this flyer, take it to 35 W Main Street, Ventura, CA 93001, and enjoy a delicious meal while supporting artists, arts research, and arts education!

Himalaya FOTM flyer

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Stitching Connection into a Lotus Print

Lotus print, matted for framing.


A couple months ago, I received an intriguing request from a longtime subscriber to the Weekly Wake-Ups.

She wanted a print of my Lotus flower with a piece of hand-sewn work mounted in the frame.

“A small scrap of fabric with some horsehair cording attached… Something like a relic,” she said.

To me, it would give your energy to the print. Could that be done?

Why not?

Kasia (the woman who made this request) and I are kindred spirits in the crossed paths of fiber and awakening. Kasia’s been on my mailing list since 2010 and I’ve always admired her skill in creating circular textile pieces.

(Cutting and sewing circles on the perpendicular warp-weft of fabric is a challenge. There’s a strong tendency for the fabric to warp and the circle to distort. Kasia clearly has a special relationship with her fabric and has mastered the art of circles! Someday I hope she’ll teach me. In the meantime, her sweet book of textile mandalas inspires on my coffee table.)

So when she asked me to add a hand sewn silk-and-horsehair-cord fragment to a print for her, I immediately thought of circles.

Kasia I Am, LoveLight

Kasia I Am, LoveLight by Kasia


As is my tendency, I expanded on the original request…

Not satisfied to  attach just a bit of cord, my mind started to spin connections — between circles and Kasia, Kasia and me, the lotus and the bodhisattva, the circle and the mantra garland on a moon disc at the heart of the deity…

What emerged was this circle of silk, couched with horsehair cord to spell the Tibetan word padma (pronounced pe-ma, as in Pema Chodron).

I stitched horsehair cords to a circle of silk to spell out the fourth and fifth syllables of the mantra of compassion, om mani padme hung. These syllables also mean "lotus." Then I affixed the silk circle to the print with BEVA archival adhesive film.

I stitched horsehair cords to a circle of silk to form the fourth and fifth syllables of the mantra of compassion, om mani padme hum. These two syllables alone, pad-ma, spell the word “lotus.” I then affixed the inscribed circle to the Lotus print using BEVA archival adhesive film.


With a vowel marker over the second syllable, it becomes padme (pe-me), the fourth and fifth syllables at the heart of Chenrezig’s mantra om mani padme hum (sometimes translated as “Hail, the jewel in the lotus”). His Holiness the Dalai Lama says the  six syllables taken all together mean that, “in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.”


Lotus print, signed and dated.

Signed and dated.


It’s been a joy to create something so personal and so simple, to stitch connections and to know the work will inspire.

I would love to make more of these personalized embellished prints. Let me know if you’d like one.


This inspiring picture book of Kasia's "Lovelights" (textile mandalas) can be purchased on Blurb.

An inspiring picture book of Kasia’s “LoveLights” (textile mandalas) can be purchased on

Kasia (pronounced:  kaa sha) is a fiber artist with a passion for mandalas (circular designs). After surviving a critical illness, Kasia began seeing sacred circles everywhere she looked and soon began to create inspired fiber art based on these visions. She believes her technical skills are a gift and that color has a healing energy that lifts the Spirit within. Using her sewing machine and a variety of fabrics, paints, and threads, she creates colorful circular pieces that draw the viewer in for a closer look. She calls these pieces LoveLights©. Kasia’s mission is to share Love and Light through the work of her hands. 

Kasia’s sister, a passionate flower lover, ordered her own print embellishment. I LOVED making this little lotus leaf to enhance Mo’s lotus print. She says the lotus provides her daily inspiration. I’m so happy to be a part of that!


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The best of your mind’s potential

Note from Leslie:

Learn Tibetan textile art in online apprenticeship with me. Make your art a sacred practice. The Stitching Buddhas Virtual Apprentice Program is the vehicle through which I teach creative, fabric-loving Buddhist women around the world to stitch sacred beauty — beauty like you see in these wake-ups each week. Visit for more info and send me an email if you have any questions.

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Looking back

I’ve been rummaging through memories and memorabilia in preparation for my Focus on the Masters interview.

One of my earliest creative endeavors. My friend Sue and I made puppets from paper bags and invited the neighborhood kids to watch the shows we wrote, directed, and performed.

One of my earliest creative endeavors: my friend Sue and I made puppets from paper bags and invited the neighborhood kids to watch the shows we wrote, directed, and performed (circa 1966)


FOTM is a nonprofit art appreciation program that documents, preserves, and presents the works and lives of contemporary artists in southern California.


1966ish Art-a-matic

Early visual art… My abstract period ;-)


Was I a bit of a drama queen back then?

Was I a bit of a drama queen back then?


The FOTM archive includes oral histories, videotaped interviews, photographic portraits, and examples of artists’ work. I’m extremely honored to have been selected for inclusion.


1975 travel journal

My first travel abroad: two months in Europe with the family. I kept an illustrated journal with reminders of funny moments. We arrived in London too early to check in to our apartment and were welcomed in the park by a pooping pigeon who had no respect for our map. Got me started off well on “rough travel” ;-)


Founded in 1994 (while I was living in Dharamsala learning Tibetan appliqué as an apprentice), FOTM is the only biographical resource project of its kind in the country.


1992 Norbulingka first sight of Tibetan applique

My first glimpse of Tibetan applique at the Norbulingka Institute in 1992. The buildings were still under construction at that time, but beautiful creations were already forming inside. I’m so grateful for that day and for that excursion as an economic development volunteer…


1993ish apprentice group Dharamsala Dorje Wangdu

With my precious teacher, Dorje Wangdu, and fellow apprentices in Dharamsala. We’re all dressed up traditionally (not an everyday occurrence) so it was probably Losar (Tibetan New Year), 1993 or 1994.


Part of the FOTM documentation process is a taped interview with founder Donna Granata in front of a live studio audience.  Let me know if you’d like to be in that audience on March 28!


1996 stitching at home with Pooja

Stitching a Buddha while my neighbor Pooja knits. In Dharamsala, circa 1996.

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